Jazz Improvisation Exercises - Developing Timing

Timing is a crucial skill for all musicians. Improve this often neglected skill with these exercises!

Ultimate Guitar
You know where all the notes are on your guitar and you have great technique but something seems to be missing. You sometimes cant get your ideas to just quite "fit" where you need them when you are improvising. Sometimes when you are recording you have trouble getting everything right on time and the rhythm feels a little off.

If these sound like problems you are having then it is time to get to work on developing your timing! Having great timing is critical for all musicians and is often an overlooked aspect of many guitarists playing. Sometimes we get so concerned with learning the notes that we neglect other areas of music that are just as important if not more so. The following exercises are a great start to developing excellent timing, so get started today!

All of the exercises that follow are meant to be practiced with a metronome. If you don't have a metronome it's time to get one! There are many great metronome apps out there for your tablet or smartphone so no excuses!

The above example will be used for the following exercises.

1. Set your metronome to a relatively slow tempo. Somewhere between 50 bpm and 60 bpm. Each click of the metronome is 1 beat for this exercise. Play the above example and make sure you are exactly on the beat. Play through this example many times and try to maintain steady tempo. It may seem easy since the tempo is pretty slow, but it is pretty difficult to remain exactly on the beat.

2. For the next exercise with this example set your metronome to only click on beats 1 and 3 of the measure. Maintain a slow tempo and play the example. This is a little more difficult than before, but not too terrible if you mastered the first exercise.

3. For the third exercise set your metronome to click only on beats 2 and 4 of the measure. This is where many jazz players feel the beat while playing slow to medium-fast tempo tunes. Play the above exercise again with a slow tempo. When you begin to feel comfortable you can start to change the tempo to be either faster or slower. Keep in mind that these exercises are not meant to build technique, just time feel, so don't go too fast!

4. For the final exercise set the metronome to only click on beat 1 of each measure. This can be very challenging for those just starting to work on their timing. You may also experiment with setting the beat to only play on beats 2, 3 or 4.

1. Again, set your metronome to a slow tempo and only on beats 1 and 3 of each measure. Play the example until you feel comfortable with it.

2. Now set the metronome to beats 2 and 4. Continue playing slowly until you feel comfortable with the time and feel.

These exercises should be practiced for 5 to 10 minutes daily. You can transpose these exercises to many keys and scales. After a few weeks of practicing you should start to be feeling the time much better than before! If you get bored with these exercises make up your own based on the same principles of moving the beat around with the metronome and practicing at many different tempos. Good luck!

About the Author:
Seth Holobaugh is a jazz guitarist and educator located in Flower Mound, TX. guitarlessonsflowermound.com sethholobaughmusic.com

2 comments sorted by best / new / date

    great lesson, but I personally think that it would be better if there was a video or audio so people could hear and feel the different tempo changes more easily. great work tough!